ISELIN, NJ – Sophomore pitcher Chris Shine tossed what South Plainfield coaches are hailing as a “two-hit perfect game” Saturday morning during the Tigers’ 5-0 victory over the Iselin Kennedy Mustangs in the first game of a doubleheader.
The win improved South Plainfield’s record to 12-6 on the year and 7-4 in GMC White Division play. South Plainfield would also take the second game of the double header in Iselin by a score of 6-5 later in the afternoon to improve to 13-6 and 8-4 (coverage of game two coming Sunday).
Shine faced the minimum 21 possible batters in the seven inning contest. The only Kennedy batters to reach base all game long came by way of a second inning single to centerfield by Hakim Hamer (the next batter, Vivek Patel would ground into a 6-4-3 double play) and a fourth inning infield base hit by Mike Matusz (who would get caught stealing by South Plainfield backstop Jared Marks later in the frame). No Mustang would advance past first base in Shine’s 68-pitch tour de force that saw him strike out seven and walk none.
“He looked as good as he did against Millburn (a 3-1 Tigers win on April 22) and it’s something I won’t forget,” South Plainfield Head Coach Anthony Guida said of Shine, the team’s exclusive Saturday pitcher. “He’s someone that can throw strikes when he needs to, throws off speed stuff for strikes, so he’s been excellent on the mound. I love what I see there. He throws with a lot of confidence, as all our pitchers do. He was able to have a lot of confidence in our catcher and our defense,” Guida said. “He’s been impressive on the mound.”
It was vital for Shine to bounce back after losing command midway through his last start, a 13-10 Tigers loss to Piscataway on April 30. “Based off of last week where I was, I kept missing high so this week I came in focused, low in the strike zone, get groundballs, get quick outs and that’s exactly what I did,” Shine, who forced seven groundouts, said.
Shine’s offense provided more than enough run support, plating a run in the top of the first, three in the second and one more for good measure in the third. Coming off a tough loss to rival Woodbridge last Tuesday, the Tigers felt the need to work on base running in practice leading up to Saturday’s games. From the onset, they caused havoc on the base paths. Left fielder Connor Adams, creeping toward the 30 hit milestone for the season, led off with an infield single and reached second base on a JFK throwing error. Marks would lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance Adams to third. With two outs and centerfielder Dylan O’Connor batting, a passed ball rolled to the backstop and Adams sauntered across the plate.
First baseman Billy Keane started the top of the second with a base hit to right center and wound up on second after another wild pitch. With one out, right fielder TJ Massaro placed a sacrifice groundout to the left side to move Keane over to third. With two outs, sophomore utility man Mikey Marrero picked up an RBI to put the Tigers up 2-0 when he sent a blooper to right field. Marrero would steal second while Adams batted in the second and advanced to third when Adams legged out yet another infield single. Adams swiped second to put two runners in scoring position with two outs for Marks. The senior catcher slammed a fastball hard to left for a two RBI single and a 4-0 Tigers lead. He took second on the throw home.
“[The JFK pitcher] threw two curveballs for two strikes, so it was 0-2, and I had a feeling he was coming in to try and beat me with a fastball. He left it up a little bit and I drove it over the third baseman’s head,” Marks said of the knock.
Marks also dazzled when he scrambled to retrieve a bouncing pitch from Shine that deflected off his chest to gun down Matusz in the bottom of the fourth.
“It was a bad pitch and I saw it hit off my chest and I took a look at first base, saw him running, and I knew I had to pop up quick and get him,” Marks said. “I was very surprised on the pitch. And after I blocked it I saw him go, and I knew that that was one of the only times I was gonna get to throw a kid out, because they knew I have a decent arm. I know a bunch of kids [on Kennedy] and I saw him so I knew I had to gun him out,” he said.
A key to the offensive outburst for Marks was the aggressiveness on the bases. “In practice the last couple days we’ve been working on base running, actually. The last two games we’ve made a lot of base running mistakes. We knew [their catcher] had…not a great arm, and we had great jumps off the bag, and we took the bases. Definitely the last two days of practice we’ve practiced that a lot,” Marks said.
The fifth and final run of the game came in the top of the third. O’Connor led off with a walk, swiped second, and then moved to third when DH Jean Sapini grounded out to the right side of the infield. O’Connor came around to score when Billy Keane collected an RBI single to right, his second hit of the game.
“They scored early and often, gave me more confidence on the mound to just go out and keep pumping strikes,” Shine said of his run support.